Plastics Panic Erupts

DN Staff

March 9, 2011

3 Min Read
Plastics Panic Erupts

I noticed when walking the halls at MD&M West last month in Anaheim, CA, that many materials’ companies promoted their products as “BPA free”.  It seemed that anyone who had a rigid clear plastic that could replace polycarbonate (which is made with bisphenol A) was making that pronouncement loud and clear.

I know this is a big deal for products like baby bottles which often are heated, potentially leaching chemicals into infant’s milk. Even though polycarbonate makers professed their innocence, this is important, and the market has shifted to substitutes. In the medical market, polycarbonate is primarily used for housings that have no contact with liquids ingested into, or in contact with, the human body.

Even plastics companies, which should (and do) know better, are sounding a theme that touches a raw public nerve, but may not have a scientific basis for structural components.

Now a new report on National Public Radio about estrogen-activity (EA) chemicals is creating a quasi plastics panic. NPR reported on a study that maintains:

“Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled, independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source, leached chemicals having reliably-detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA-free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than BPA-containing products.”

Now here’s one big whopper of a caveat: One of the authors (and funders) of the study is a professor who created a company called PlastiPure, also getting a lot of play on NPR, that develops products certified as EA-free. This reminds me a little of the post I did a couple of years ago on a life-cycle analysis conducted by a trade group representing PVC Christmas tree producers showing that PVC trees are environmentally superior to trees grown in forests.

That was hogwash. Is the PlastiPure study (partly funded by the National Science Foundation) hogwash? I don’t know. But maybe it’s time for a study from a more credible source.

The American Chemistry Council threw cold water on the PlastiPure study. Steve Johnson, vp of the ACC’s Plastics Division, said that even “some common foods show endocrine activity in limited tests such as this one.” The complete ACC statement is published below.

The American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division, whose members include the nation’s leading producers of plastics materials, issued the following statement in response to the PlastiPure study:

“Every day, modern plastic packaging plays a critical role in helping to prevent foodborne illness and reduce spoilage from farm to shelf to table-but not before these materials are demonstrated to meet rigorous government safety standards. In the United States, all plastic packaging intended for contact with foods and beverages must meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s stringent safety requirements before it may be used.

“The types of  ‘test tube’ testing methods employed in this study must be viewed with caution. By design, they do not reflect the complexity of the body and are not capable of providing information on actual risk to humans. A proper evaluation requires consideration of many factors and few of these were considered in this study. In fact, some common foods show endocrine activity in limited tests such as this one.

“In addition, the study’s authors neither identified the substances alleged to migrate from food packaging, nor did they provide any information on the amounts of substances that allegedly migrated.
As a result of these significant limitations, this report cannot be considered a reliable source. Consumers can continue to have confidence that the plastic food packaging on the market today meets stringent Federal safety requirements.”

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